The National:

Winner in 2016: Alasdair Allan (SNP)

NA h-Eileanan an Iar, formerly known by the English name of the Western Isles, is the place that voted SNP before it was cool.

In 1970, the constituency was the first to ever be taken by the SNP at a Westminster General Election, a feat that was even more remarkable given that the party hadn’t even bothered putting up a candidate there since 1951. Perhaps if the SNP were ever going to make the initial breakthrough, it had to be in an atypical seat like this which is often more or less disconnected from national trends.

Donald Stewart was the successful candidate, and owed his win largely to the personal vote he had built up as a councillor in Stornoway.

But even if the result was caused by local factors, it had huge national implications, because it prevented the SNP from reverting to being an extra-parliamentary force after what could have been nothing more than a glorious three-year blip caused by their extraordinary gain in the 1967 Hamilton by-election. Retaining a presence in the House of Commons was arguably crucial in preparing the ground for the mid-70s surge yet to come. And after that surge abated, Stewart’s local popularity was important in keeping the independence flame burning, because between 1979 and 1987 he was one of only two SNP MPs left – with the other being party leader Gordon Wilson in Dundee East.

However, if the SNP had once benefited from the islands’ disconnect from national trends, that was a factor that could also come back to haunt them. In the 1987 General Election, just when they were turning the corner elsewhere in Scotland by increasing their vote share and taking seats from the Tories, they suffered the enormous setback of losing what they assumed was their stronghold. Stewart had stepped down, and without his personal vote the SNP found themselves the victim of the largest swing in Britain. Even worse, the new Labour MP Calum MacDonald was a young man with potentially decades of service ahead of him, and once his own personal vote solidified he started to look like an immovable object.

The SNP threw everything at him in the subsequent three elections, including what looked like a credible challenge in 1997 from the renowned Gaelic singer Anne Lorne Gillies, but it was never quite enough – the closest they got was a gap of 8% in 2001. Meanwhile, the problem doubled when the Scottish Parliament was established in 1999, because the Holyrood version of the constituency was taken by another young Labour politician, Alasdair Morrison, who was already well known as a BBC news reporter.

But just when it looked like the SNP would have to wait patiently for MacDonald and Morrison to retire, the tide suddenly turned. Angus MacNeil took the Westminster seat from MacDonald in 2005, and once again that was an out of the blue result that couldn’t be explained by national trends – in fact the SNP’s vote share declined across the country that year. In 2007, Alasdair Allan took the Holyrood seat from Morrison, thus confirming that the islands had come home to the SNP.

That’s the way it’s stayed ever since, but with the constituency’s reputation for going its own way, nothing can be taken for granted regardless of what national polls may suggest. That said, Labour are the only possible challengers, and they’re presumably at least somewhat less likely to make a fight of it due to their current national malaise. There’ll be no complacency in the Alasdair Allan camp, but he does look highly likely to be re-elected as an SNP MSP.